Tuesday, May 16, 2006
CHILD CARE, most any parent knows, can be a huge expense. Some members of Congress, though, have found an innovative -- and brazen -- way to defray the cost: Their campaign funds pick up the tab when child care is needed because the candidate is out campaigning. A leader in this creative billing is Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), who has had his campaign reelection committee and his leadership PAC pay $5,881 in child-care costs since 2001 for his daughter, now 14. This election alone, Mr. Doolittle's campaign committees have paid almost $975 in child-care bills to a woman who lives near his family's Oakton home.
An electronic search of campaign spending records from 2001 on shows only a handful of members who billed their campaigns for baby-sitting services. Other than former representative J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), whose campaign paid $3,530 for "baby-sitting services" during the 2002 campaign, none had his or her political committees pick up the tab to the extent that the Doolittles have.
The legal foundation for dipping into campaign funds for child care was laid a decade ago, when the Federal Election Commission allowed Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) to use campaign funds to pay for a babysitter while his wife joined him at receptions, cocktail parties and news conferences. Mr. McCrery argued that his wife "is an integral part of my campaign team, and her presence at these events is vital." Thus, he said, the baby-sitting expense "is directly related to my candidacy." The commission staff didn't buy it. "Providing for child care when a parent is unavailable for business travel reasons is a concern for most families, regardless of profession," the staff said in its draft opinion. "The expenses for such care cannot be said to be specially related to your campaign." But the FEC, in its wisdom, disagreed with its staff, opening the door for Mr. Doolittle.
The lawmaker's spokesman, Richard Robinson, said in an e-mail that he is "one of a handful of members of Congress who has a child who lives and attends school in Virginia. Congressman Doolittle regularly travels home to California to attend official and campaign-related events. Because Mrs. Doolittle's attendance is often vital to these events, she frequently accompanies Congressman Doolittle, requiring that child care be provided to their daughter, who cannot be taken out of school to attend with them. These expenses are directly related to Congressman Doolittle's candidacy and his duties as an officeholder and would not exist otherwise."
This may be permissible under the lax guidance of the congressional enablers at the FEC. That doesn't make it right. It's the attitude of congressional entitlement to a subsidized lifestyle -- cut-rate private jets, lavish private travel -- that drives public disdain for Congress. Mr. Doolittle makes $165,200 a year as a member of Congress. His wife has already taken in close to $100,000 in commissions this election as his fundraiser. They should just pay the sitter, as other working parents do.